The World According to Renee

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After: A Conversation

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This post contains mentions of suicide and depression. If this post triggers similar thoughts in you, please seek professional help immediately.

In October 2015, Nikki Gemmell’s mother Elayn self-euthanised.

What follows is a raw look at Elayn’s life, death and their mother-daughter relationship. Nikki and Elayn’s relationship was strained. Elayn wanted a perfect daughter: smart, pretty, popular, famous. Nikki was berated for not being those things and this formed the narrative of her life. But, ELayn was still hr mother and deeply loved. When she committed suicide, Nikki and her brother were called upon to identify the body and answer the police questions surrounding the death. Nikki couldn’t call it suicide, she preferred “self-euthanasia”.

This book forced me to examine my own relationship with my mother but also the relationship with my daughter. Although my daughter is only two, am I being the mother I want to be and the mother she needs me to be? There is no chance I’m ever going to tell her she’s ugly, or I wish her friend was my daughter instead of her, or she needs to earn my love. My own mother never told me any of those things either; in fact my mum always told me how proud she is of me.

Nikki refers to the Japanese practice of kintsugi, which is the repair of ceramics with a fine gold paste to create a new history of the object instead of disguising the repair. Kintsugi is a metaphor for their relationship, creating something different and unique rather than disguising a repair. It’s a beautiful background for something so heartbreaking.

Elayn suffered depression after foot surgery a year prior to her death. She cried out for help yet also pushed it away, believing herself to be a burden on her adult children. Nikki’s inbox was full of emails asking for help with shopping or medical appointments, with an outbox full of “Sorry mum, too busy”. It’s not a reflection of tension within the mother-daughter symbiosis, it’s a reflection of a mum’s busy life. Nikki has four kids who have a full calendar of after school and weekend activities.

I’ve written before that toddlers are quite difficult people. She does drive me crazy because I have little patience, particularly for toddlers who haven’t had a nap and draw on my bedsheets with markers or spit in my Milo. It’s these moments which draw out my cranky side and I’m only slightly less than perfect in my parenting. It’s probably not the moment she will remember, hopefully those are negated by trips to the park or library, playing trains or animals on the floor of her room, or the endless readings from her favourite books. I do hope that one day far into the future, she’s not writing painful memories in her own best-selling book about the fractured relationship with her mother.

Inspired by the book, last week I asked my mum about her plans for her death. Funeral, songs, friends. It’s a conversation people avoid yet everyone will go through. Funerals are for the living. They are a celebration of one’s life and should reflect the good parts of life. For Elayn’s funeral, Nikki and her siblings draped Elayn’s extensive collection of scarves over each pew with an invitation for guests to take them home to remember Elayn. In my mum’s case, perhaps I’d be leaving out her extensive DVD collection?

This started as a review of After, but it is impossible to critique a personal recollection of one’s grief. Nikki’s writing is deeply personal. She’s a writer’s writer so you may need a dictionary nearby. She examines her mother as her mother, as a mother herself, as a daughter and as a person. Sometimes we forget our mums are people too, with their own lives and a whole life before we were even born.

It’s a recommended read, but it is harrowing in parts. Her own story forces you to examine your own relationships for better or worse. There is so much to take away from her story and weave into your own.

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June 5, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment